Awareness of ethical principles and practices in sport, health and exercise research

S. Olivier

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstract


In response to a generally accepted `progress imperative’ view of science, research in sport, health and exercise proceeds in a manner that may, at times, be considered increasingly manipulative, or even invasive. As in other disciplines, this has been associated with increasing concern with the ethics of conducting research. This study comprised a preliminary assessment
of institutional, journal and individual awareness of ethical principles and practices in research using human participants.

Research proposals in several subdisciplines, modified to be ethically questionable, were distributed to 193 potential supervisors from 41 countries, who were randomly selected from professional databases. Secondly, a search of 26 peer-reviewed journals in sport, health, exercise and sports medicine was used to ascertain whether authors in these disciplines reported on the informed consent process. Lastly, a questionnaire was sent to a random selection of heads of department of sport, health and exercise at universities, in an attempt to elicit specific information regarding the existence and function of ethical review practices in the discipline. The study was conducted following ethical approval by Rhodes University.

Descriptive data analysis indicates that, for 240 reviews from 78 experienced researchers, only 19 comments were elicited regarding ethical unsuitability. Thus, the researchers generally failed to identify ethical malpractices deliberately inserted into research proposals. The ethical considerations potentially violated included informed consent, coercion/
captive populations, harm, cultural issues, release forms, paternalism, medical screening, confidentiality, privacy, debriefing and deception. The journal search revealed that, even where an `ethics declaration’ was mandatory, journal articles were deficient in reporting on the informed consent process. Lastly, the questionnaire to heads of department provided
some evidence that, compared with some other geographical regions, South African university departments of sport, health and exercise were relatively deficient in applying formal systems of ethical review.

Collectively, the results indicate that insufficient attention is paid to ethics in sport, health and exercise research. It is contended that, given the apparent absence of comment on deontological ethical practices and malpractices, as exemplified by the potential ethical violations, it is probable that teleological theory drives research ethics in the discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-19
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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